It was a sunny day in early spring when I visited Robert in his home. We are old friends but as often with friendships we had our disagreements. He kept four cats and required scarcely anything of them. I had tried to convince him that he was undermining their moral fibre by allowing them to sponge off him, but he in his amiable way simply turned aside my admonitions. I said nothing of it as he greeted me and led me to his living room, with its glass doors opening out onto an expansive lawn running down to the edge of the woods.
Then the cats filed in, one by one: little Jemima, amiable Munkstrap, placid Jennyanydots, and finally the dignified Bustopher Jones.
I saw a flash of orange at the woods’ edge. Jennyanydots sprang to unaccustomed alertness. “Look, look!,” she hissed in agitation. “There he is again!”
(I must explain here that I am condensing the narrative a bit. Lacking Robert’s fluency in Catalogue, I rely on his translation from the cat speech. And as I discovered, in reality cats are as prone to talking over one another as we.)
“Oh, the poor thing,” Jemima said.
“Disgusting!” Bustopher Jones yelped. “Something should be done.”
An orange cat emerged from the woods, looked about, and started toward us across the lawn.
Plainly alarmed, Jennyanydots yowled, “He’s heading toward us! What shall we do?”
“Now, now,” Munkstrap purred soothingly, “there’s no need to panic.”
“He just wants a little milk and some company,” Jemima said. “I feel it.”
“I know this cat,” Bustopher responded sternly. “An illegal, criminal cat probably from Caxico, or perhaps Cata Rica, or even Catzil. Someplace with awful, disgusting habits where they have no decent behavior. Look: you can see he has no idea how to lick himself properly. Disgusting!” he repeated.
The orange cat certainly did look rather ragged, and distinctly lean.
“Simply because he’s here uninvited doesn’t mean he’s a criminal,” Munkstrap remonstrated.
“He’s here to intrude and disrupt our family, and that’s criminal enough for me,” Bustopher shot back.
“I agree with Bustopher,” Jennyanydots said. “He should be put over the border into Caxico.”
“We don’t know that he’s really from Caxico,” Jemima objected.
“It’s where he belongs anyway,” was Jennyanydots’ scornful reply. “Certainly not here.”
“But look at him,” cried Jemima. “See how forlorn he is. Is he not one of Bast’s kits, just as we are? Is he not as deserving of her bounty as we?”
“Do you want him lapping from your milk dish?” the larger female shot back.
“Don’t worry about milk,” Robert put in. “I just got more and plenty of cat food and litter as well.”
Bustopher Jones snorted and Jennyanydots sniffed. “It’s our house and family,” they chorused. “Not his.”
“Oh come now,” I said. I had not meant to intervene, but felt driven to. “It’s Robert’s to decide, after all. It was his grandfather who built the house that shelters you and his mother who started the business that pays the milk bills. You are but guests here.”
Jennyanydots snarled, a shocking sound from her, and bared her teeth at me. She looked rather ridiculous, to tell the truth.
Bustopher Jones drew himself up and shot out his chest. “The milk is not the issue, nor the food. Worthy as he may be in Bast’s eyes and much as we no doubt owe to Robert and his ancestors, it really is our family and our house, just as Jennyanydots says, just as much as it’s Robert’s. Have we not remained on the alert all these many years, prowling the house constantly to patrol for intruders? Have we not stood always ready to ward off mice, rats, dogs, and even more fearsome beasts like werewolves and unicorns? Who could be more faithful? What does the orange one know of all this?”
“Oh, Bustopher,” Jemima chuckled, “You haven’t caught a mouse in years.”
“The mice aren’t the issue,” Jennyanydots snorted. “It’s the community.”
The orange one had by now reached the door and stood with his nose practically pressed against the glass, looking in at the elysian world within.
“Think what he might be able to bring,” Munkstrap entreated. “A whole new world of experiences and ideas, refreshing and reinvigorating.”
Jennyanydots was having none of it. “Disgusting and corrupting, more like.”
“You watch,” Bustopher Jones admonished, “A horde of others just like him would soon follow. There’s never just one. They will descend on us with their raucous, uncouth behavior and bizarre, filthy habits. They will want to take over the house and the patrolling of it for themselves and displace us. They know nothing of us and our community and will show us no respect.”
“He would learn our ways, surely,” Munkstrap responded.
“Let him learn our ways first,” Jennyanydots shot back.
“Can we not have some compassion?” Jemima pleaded. “We have so much and he so little.”
“And what of all the others?” Bustopher demanded. “If we somehow are obliged to open our doors to one why not to a dozen, or a score? We should be submerged!”
“I just want to keep my home,” Jennyanydots wailed. “Is that so much to ask?”
The hall clock struck the hour. I drew my watch from its pocket and found that the time had quite gotten away from me.
“Oh, dear,” I said. “I must run. I shall be late.”
I took my leave of the cats as I rose. Robert accompanied me to the door. I glanced back to see the orange cat, now on his haunches, still peering in.
“I’m very sorry to leave you at such a moment,” I told him.
“It’s very vexing, very much so.”
“What shall you do?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I cannot impose a solution. That would be wrong, and leave much ill-feeling. We must come to a common view.”
I did my best to give him encouragement, but my heart was heavy with foreboding.